Daniel Dennett puts Rick Warren’s brand of religion under the microscope

December 19, 2008 | By | 3 Replies More

In this 2006 lecture at TED, philosopher Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell) takes on the “brilliant” contemporary redesign of religion by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.   After acknowledging that Warren’s book is, indeed, “brilliant” (it has sold 30 million copies and motivated comparable numbers of people), Dennett pointedly criticizes some of the book’s main points, including:

  • Without God, there cannot be any meaning, purpose or morality
  • God designed our environment for “Man.”
  • To have meaning in life, you need to deny natural selection.
  • One should obey God’s word, even if it doesn’t make sense.
  • Good without God = 0

Dennett proposes the following antidote for preachers like Warren:  We need a required curriculum that presents the facts concerning all religions of the world.  We should teach our children all the facts (no spin), to include the history, creeds, texts, music, prohibitions, symbolism and requirements.  This curriculum would allow our children to study religions, including their own religion within an appropriate context.  This will allow them to see that humans have been actively designing religions.  This would allow all of us to see that religions are natural phenomena that have been “domesticated” much like the modern dairy cow is a product of intense domestication.

Dan Dennett is one of the world’s leading cognitive philosophers.  I have been inspired by many of his writings, including his 1996 book, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”

BTW, for all of his pontificating on morality, Rich Warren seems to have at least one gigantic moral blindspot.


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Category: Culture, Evolution, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    After his over-hyped and intrusive interviews of Obama and John McCain this last August, the best-selling author of A Purpose-Driven Life disclosed to his congregation at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca., the one kind of person he couldn’t vote for. “I could not vote for an atheist because an atheist says, ‘I don’t need God,’” Warren preached, according to the Los Angeles Times. “They’re saying, ‘I’m totally self-sufficient by [myself].’ And nobody is self-sufficient to be president by themselves. It’s too big a job.”

    It’s hard to decide which is more laughable: Warren’s conception of the presidency or of atheists. Unfortunately, both conceptions are widespread among Americans.


  2. Erich Vieth says:

    From Melissa Etheridge at Huffpo:

    I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.


  3. Mario R Silveira says:

    Daniel Dennett, R. Rawkins, Samuel Harris and Christopher Hitchens, all of them, are brilliant authors! Very creative people, indeed! Even Unequaled in their fields. Each has got a very peculiar Achilles's heel though. I think it could be related to their atheism according to a curious twisted picture of some self-denying aspects in each of them.

    Daniel Dennett in his great book "Consciousness Explained" reiteratedly – but inconsistently according to his own choosen scientific framework – mix up Jung's concept of Self (better viewed as a direction of unfolding) with a too wide idea of the Ego (just the center of consciousness for Jung).

    Dawkins could misrepresent the hierarchy of the arrows explanation by overestimating the place of the genes in the incomplete structure of explanation. He knows that he doesn't know what he would like so much to know, which is how life emerges within nature. How much that bothers him that he cannot accept some theistic point of views? Anyway, I think is something else what bothers this exceedingly bright author, and Dawkins is right when he dismisses lunatic creationists!

    Hitchens is a breathtaking destructor of religions. I loved the passage in his book where he shows clearly that Abraham's contemporaneous were barely stopping the sacrifice of their own children to their newcomer only god. First it shows that Abraham must be a mix of a true person and, undoubtedly a symbolic personage. After this point, Hitchens himself take all religions to his godless sacred mount for revengeful annihilation!! Even though, Hitchens points out that is a scientific faith which moves his furor, he never pointed out something that could at least give religions a "habeas corpus". Hitchens and all atheists – most theists as well – have forgotten that more than a 100 years ago Freud was discovering the unconscious mind, which is profoundly related to the religious phenomena. Spinoza himself helped in the emergence of psychology, but denied the prophetic revelation, which that science could give some viable embasement.

    Now, I don't know much of Sam Harris. His interview with Rick Warren in Saddlebeck revealed something very startling about creationists . I don't know if God exists. The Bible says that God is! I don't think I would miss the target if I follow Jesus in saying that God is Spirit. Anyway, how could I disapprove the theory of evolution, myself, who am training and sharpening reason for millennia??! So, it is embarrassing to me hear pastor Rick Warren say that he prefers to believe in Adam and Eve an not in evolution.

    "Is Warren honest?", you wander about! What is he afraid of? You pay attention to the interview and you see that he really means what he says. That justifies his primitive alienated position? I don't think so, but I recognize some very complex situation here. This is very bad! Because what enemy Jesus needs if the ones like Warren are His fellow men?

    I have some close contact with religious people from a Baptist Church, here in Brazil. These people are not really interested in discussing the reality of God or Jesus as Messiah, etc. They are very practical religious people who want to approach spiritual dimension according to Jesus's teaching and the Bible.

    Most of them learned from very early childhood that God created Adam and Eve. That man had fallen by the first Adam and that Jesus, the second Adam, by resurrecting saves all those who believe in that. This is something profoundly rooted in every true believer. So much that he or she will strongly deny anything that might endanger this biblical truth.

    That's as much disturbing as sad! I think that if religious people tried to grasp what Jesus wanted to mean by "God is Spirit", then humanity would really step into the promised kingdom.

    It is important to notice, that the spiritual reality is always – even if shared with my neighbour – a reality from within.

    In this sense, Dennett has come out with a great, if not necessary, idea about educating children with knowledge of the multileveled aspects of any and every religion humans have breeded about, if I may quote Dennett.

    Breaking the spell?!… Whenever one twists some incomplete picture – and that's all about the ultimate unknown laws of nature (an also of religious phenomena!) – you can become an uncomparably godlike magician, which is the same as a skillful dangerous liar.


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